Dr. Miles V. Lynk
Tennessee is a word that bring to mind countless images of pioneers,
rural life, and simpler times. Stereotypes that are responsible
for attracting millions of visitors to the area each year giving
rise to a booming tourism industry that capitalizes on such
images as David Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and the early American
pioneers. This singular portrayal of the region does have a
downside in many circles. The most noted being its power to
eclipse the stories of accomplishments belonging to Tennessee
minorities and in many cases relegating these individuals to
scarce footnotes in American history. You will not find any
lengthy passages on them in school history texts, but their
lives had such an impact on American life that the effects are
still seen today.
There was a different side of life in Tennessee history not
found in the brochures one that starts with a black country
doctor in Jackson, TN.
Miles Vandahurst Lynk was born near the small town of Brownsville,
TN on June 3, 1871 in Haywood County. He was the first-born
son of former slaves who made their living off of a small family
farm. At the age of six, Miles Lynks father was killed
in an accident and the young boy was forced to take on adult
responsibilities in helping his mother on the farm.
In spite of the hard times, Lynks mother insisted that
her son attend the rural black schools in the region at least
five months a year. She spent much of her time tutoring him
herself. She covered the gaps in his education with what books
she could acquire and the young boy became a voracious reader.
They made enough money from the farm to hire a private tutor
and Miles was able to study advanced academic subjects
and gained an able education.
In the summer of 1888 at the age of 17, Miles Lynk took a job
teaching in the black rural schools in order to save money for
continuing his own education. Lynk decided at some point in
those years that he wanted to study medicine and, as it was
in those days, he began as an apprentice to Dr. Jacob C. Harriston
in his hometown of Brownsville. Under Dr. Harristons tutelage,
Lynk learned much from the physician and soon applied to medical
In 1889, he traveled to present-day Meharry Medical College
in Nashville, where his prior work with Dr. Harriston paid off
and the teenager was able to not only pass the entrance examinations
with extremely high marks, but also shorten the time of his
college career by a year.
In those days, a medical colleges curriculum consisted
of mainly lectures that prepared entry level physicians to begin
practicing medicine. Meharry Medical College was established
after the War Between the States to train black physicians,
and, although young, was earning itself an excellent reputation
as an educational institution.
Lynks natural aptitude and high scores quickly caught
the attention of school founder Dr. George Whipple and faculty
member Dr. Robert Boyd, who aided the young man in his rigorous
course work. Of the thirteen students who entered the college
with Lynk, the Brownsville native graduated in 1891 second in
The 19-year-old physician decided to start his practice in Jackson,
instead of his home town of Brownsville. With just over 10,000
people living in the city and 40 percent of that number black,
Dr. Lynk felt it would be a good city to establish himself.
His friends had tried to warn him away from the city because
of racial unrest, but Lynk was determined to begin his practice,
which was near his hometown of Brownsville and close to the
Colored Methodist Episcopal Church his parents had been so devoted
to in his youth.
With the opening his practice doors, Lynk became the first black
physician in Madison County. Dr. Lynk received a warm reception
from Jacksons white physicians and encountered few difficulties.
In fact, his biggest problem with his new practice was in winning
the confidence of the black community, who were skeptical a
black physician could have the same skills and training as his
white counterpart. It took a some time, but soon Lynks
reputation overcame the skepticism and garnered him enough patients
to build a lucrative practice in the city.
In the first year or two, Lynk noticed the growing black medical
community was being overlooked by the American medical establishment.
Although there was only 909 black physicians out of the 10,391
practicing in America at the time, no publications or journals
were available that spoke of black patients case reports,
medical schools, or personal chronicles of other black physicians
that could prove helpful to practicing doctors. It left Americas
black physicians on their own in handling difficult cases and,
with no networking in their ranks, new treatments for traditionally
black medical conditions were rarely mentioned in American medical
On Dec. 1, 1892, 21-year-old Dr. Miles V. Lynk formally established
the first national medical journal for black physicians. The
Medical and Surgical Observer focused on black medical issues
and offered the latest information available on treatments and
Dr. Lynk oversaw the journals entire operation. He wrote
articles, edited its contents, and sold the advertisements,
which financially supported the monthly publication. Dr. Lynk
also reprinted articles of professional interest from the nations
leading medical journals in The Medical and Surgical Observer.
The Tennessean proved to be a good promoter, which led him to
establish a small publishing house in Jackson, Tenn. The business
various projects also provided some much needed employment to
blacks in the community.
While he produced numerous publications at the facility, The
MSO was his flagship publication. Dr. Lynk used its pages to
introduce black physicians in the South and across the nation
to each other. He constantly asked for articles and participation
from them in his editorials. Using phrases like: "Remember,
every man knows something that somebody else doesnt know,"
Lynks informal style attracted articles from doctors in
Washington, D.C., North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia,
and his home state of Tennessee. While racial segregation in
medicine was a hard fact of life in those days, the publication
never overtly discussed it and, instead, concentrated itself
on being a professional medical journal supplying much needed
information on black medical enterprises across the nation.
Its pages were open to the subject, however, and many articles
appeared discussing the fact that whites-only hospitals were
often closed to black physicians and doctors being forced to
surrender patients to white surgeons for major operations.
Educating black physicians was another strong focus of the publication.
Dr. Lynk wrote of the nations emerging black medical schools
and offered appraisals of their training programs. Of the six
black medical colleges in American at that time, Lynk always
kept a close editorial eye on them and constantly lobbied for
tougher standards in their curriculums. His most noted professional
cause as an editorialist was the need he saw for a national
black medical organization and he constantly called for the
formation of one.
For eighteen months, Dr. Lynks Medical and Surgical Observer
published 17 editions and pioneered black medical journalism
in America. Some of the original articles published by the nations
black physicians later found there way into the leading medical
journals of the day and helped establish the first professional
network for black physicians.
While letters poured in from doctors across America lauding
Lynks efforts to organize black physicians, no one would
take the lead and Lynk was too busy to take on such a task as
by himself. When the monthly publication ceased distribution
in 1894, Dr. Miles Lynk continued his efforts to organize Americas
growing black medical community. His cause received a much needed
boost when the American Medical Association rejected the membership
application of black physician Dr. J.R. Francis.
The Tennessean used the rejection of Dr. Francis to raise interest
in forming a black medical organization. A year later in Atlanta,
during the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895,
Dr. Miles Lynk got his chance at the event to realize his life-long
goal. Although the event was held during an era of intense racial
problems in the region, the organizers of the Exposition had
set aside a "Negro Building" as a way to show off
the best of the South both black and white. Booker T. Washington
delivered a speech during the exposition on self-sufficiency
and individualism that would propel him to national prominence
as a leader in the black community. One of his most noted remarks
in the "Cast down your buckets where you are" speech
was his reference to race relations in the South, where he stated:
"In all things that are purely social we can be as separate
as the five fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential
to mutual progress."
While many would later say his speech was a conciliatory gesture
to segregation, the words at the time helped inspire blacks
to form their own organizations and establish themselves in
what had once been "white-only" professions. Lynk
seized on the speech and lobbied black physicians at the Exposition
to support his idea.
On the afternoon of Nov. 18, 1895, which was designated as "Doctors
Day" at the Exposition, a group of 12 black physicians
met in the First Congregational Church in Atlanta. There Jackson,
Tenn. Doctor Miles Lynk and 11 others from across the South
formed The National Association of Colored Physicians, Dentists,
and Pharmacists. Meharry Medical College professor Dr. Robert
Boyd, who Lynk regarded as the acknowledged leader of the black
medical profession, became the associations first president.
Dr. Lynk took the post of Vice President.
Like the pioneering efforts with The Medical and Surgical Observer,
Lynk knew the promise of a national black medical organization.
The medical groups provided valuable opportunities for physicians
to meet with colleagues, hear scientific papers, get advice,
and discuss difficult cases. The organization struggled at first,
but soon grew into a vital part of the black medical community.
It eventually changed its name to The National Medical Association
and became a fixture of not only black physicians, but the American
Lynks contributions to black Americans didnt end
with the field of medicine. He always remained an active part
of his community in West Tennessee serving as a Sunday School
teacher at Collins CME Church where he was a member and publishing
numerous works on black literature, history and cultural life.
He would also go on to publish two more monthly magazines "Lynks
Magazine" in 1898 and "The Negro Outlook" in
In 1900, he founded and established the University of West Tennessee
a black university headquartered in Jackson that taught
medicine, dentistry, and law. Dr. Lynk remained a firm believer
in continuing education and used his life as an example. He
eventually earned a law degree and passed the bar exam in Tennessee.
Lynk also went on to found the Lyn-Krest Sanitarium in Memphis
and relocated the university in the city in 1907.
The University of West Tennessee produced many successful graduates,
but was forced to close its doors in 1924 for financial reasons.
During its ten year run, however, the University boasted numerous
graduates in dentistry, law, medicine and nursing. Many would
go to become recognized leaders in their chosen fields and practice
in numerous states and foreign countries.
In 1942, one of Lynks papers entitled: "Medicine,
Fifty Years Ago And Now" was read at the annual meeting
of the National Medical Association, which illustrated the advancements
of black physicians since his early days as an intern. Lynk
later served as Dean of the School of Nurse Training of the
Terrill Memorial Hospital in Memphis. He continued his medical
practice. In 1952, Dr. Miles Lynk was honored by the organization
he helped to found when he became the ninth recipient of the
Distinguished Service Award from the National Medical Association.
On Dec. 29, 1957, the pioneering physician passed away at the
age of 86 in Memphis. In his lifetime, Dr. Miles Lynk had overcome
numerous obstacles and accomplished many goals leaving
behind a legacy that not only aided the career of countless
black physicians but would also help reorganize medicine throughout
The Tennessee Historical Commission has erected a historical
marker near Lynks boyhood home in Brownsville to commemorate
his life and service and it is, sadly, the only such monument
in Tennessee that honors his pioneering accomplishments.
Lynks pioneering publication "The Medical and Surgical
Observer" would go to be recognized as the first black
medical journal in America and Lynk himself recognized as one
of the top 50 black medical pioneers in U.S. history. Among
the numerous letters he received from physicians during the
MSOs publication, none was more valuable to him than a
letter he received from Dr. Monroe A. Majors of Waco, TX who
"I have before my gaze the pride and boast of every Negro
doctor, a journal of our own , a counterpart of ourselves ...
a real living proof of capacity in science and art. In a brief
way, allow me to congratulate you for pluck, energy, and forethought."
Lynk was a part of a black renaissance that took place in the
South in the late 19th and early 20th century and spawned some
of the nations most influential black leaders. Even though
colleges, universities, and professional organizations were
closed to them, the books were there and they took every opportunity
to educate themselves and establish a presence in American society.
The Universities and professional organizations that they would
found seeded a vibrant black culture in America one that
would grow in strength and provide the nation with some of the
best educational facilities in the world.
One such institution is Tennessees Meharry Medical College
in Nashville. Since its founding in 1876, it has dedicated itself
to training black physicians, dentists, and other medical professionals
and is historically regarded as one of the best such institutions
in America. The early leadership of its president Dr. Robert
Boyd had a galvanizing effect on black medicine throughout the
nation. The college can now boast that nearly 40 percent of
black physicians and dentists practicing in America are Meharry
graduates. Their alumni represents 43 states, the District of
Columbia, and 22 foreign nations. In 1988, the college developed
the first Institute on Health Care for the Poor and Underserved
and now publishes a quarterly journal on the subject to aid
practitioners in that field. They have recently placed emphasis
on the development and training of black biomedical research
scientists in order to close the gap in medical research fields.
In addition to the many magazines and papers to his credit,
Miles V. Lynk also authored four notable books: "The Afro-American
School Speaker and the Gems of Literature", "The Black
Trooper or Daring Deeds of Negro Soldiers In The Spanish-American
War", "Pictorial Review of The Great World War",
"Lynks Simplified System of Record Keeping for Busy
People", and an autobiography in 1951 entitled; "Sixty
Years of Medicine, The Life and Times of Dr. Miles V. Lynk".
Only a few copies of Lynks autobiography were ever published,
but it is the only definitive work on his life and career. In
his autobiography, Lynk commented on his efforts in medicine
and journalism when he spoke of "The Medical and Surgical
Observers" somewhat abbreviated life span and its
impact on medicine. The words explained a phenomena that is
truly American in tradition and Southern Appalachian in context.
"It was a pioneering effort," Lynk said, "and,
as with all pioneers, you clear the trees, throw up the highways
and make straight the paths. Their tasks are hard because the
average person hasnt caught the vision."
Others did follow in the MSOs footsteps, but it took years
before one would gain such attention and recognition as Lynk.
In fact, until the development of the National Medical Association
and its medical journal 20 years later, no one attempted such
a nationwide endeavor as did the Tennessee physician. In a 1941
tribute to the aging physician, they wrote: "Among the
outstanding members of the medical profession, Dr. Miles Vandahurst
Lynk occupies a unique position. His active life may be embraced
in five brackets, to wit: a pioneer, expansionist, educator,
author, publisher, and civic leader."
The National Medical Association, which started with 12 black
Southern physicians, now represents more than 20,000 black medical
professionals. The organization has become a thriving part of
the American medical community and a leader in the field. Many
noted physicians would lead the organization over the years,
including several Tennesseans and one from Knoxville. For more
information on the NMA and its history, you can access their
Internet site at www.nmanet.org